Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Deliciously Devoured: Differentiating Instruction With Menus for the Inclusive Classroom: Math (Grades 3-5) by Laurie E. Westphal

Whether new to the concept of differentiation or well versed in the realities of trying to teach differentiation strategies, this book provides a solid overview in how to approach and teach the subject in an inclusive manner. This book can be used as a resource on its own and is appropriate for students who are at a lower level (including student who experience language barriers) or on-level. For students who are on-level, the exercises may be adapted to suit them, or this book could be used in conjunction with the second book in this series that targets on-level and advanced or gifted learners.

The author begins the book by discussing the ideas behinds inclusive classrooms and details the methodology employed in writing the menus. In this section the author is able to concisely explain the underlying ideas of choice, autonomy, and student-driven education through curiousity and guided exploration. Accompanying these ideas is a number of easy-to-use exercises that assist in establishing the necessary structure required when teaching while nurturing a creative, open learning environment. The second chapter familiarizes teachers in the use of the menus, with concrete examples as to how this may be employed in an inclusive classroom setting.

Throughout the book the author is careful to use materials and provide resources that cater to a wide range of both teaching and learning styles. The products, rubrics, and menus themselves are simple to adapt to each classroom setting. The pages are visually interesting, user-friendly, and age-appropriate, and in nearly every instance teachers and students are provided with more than one option for learning and approach.

I was particularly fond of the self-regulated point system that is given to students. Using this point system, students select the activities they would like to complete, with each activity being assigned a certain number of points. For example, students may be told they need a total of 100 points to complete a particular unit (e.g. fractions), but what activities they complete to achieve the 100 points is up to them. Students select activities from a list of possible activities, with each activity involving more than rote memorization. The activities are exciting and engaging, giving options that range from dioramas and comic books to concentration cards and puppet plays.

The book's greatest strength is its practical and concrete application of the concepts in that easy-to-utilize format. The book supports autonomy within a classroom setting. Learning begins when students feel they have a choice in their learning. Not only does this book foster such a structure, it does so in a way that is comprehensive, creative, accessible, and (best of all) fun.  I would highly recommend this book to any teacher seeking to incorporate such attributes into their classroom, or any person looking to empower a child in math.

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